For a self-described “free-speech absolutist” like Elon Musk, charging a fee to those seeking to express their opinions online is a horrible idea. “Free speech” isn’t exactly free if you have to pay a regular charge, after all.

However, the billionaire appears to have big plans for X, including removing the “free” from “free speech.” It could not have arrived at a more trying time.

This week, Musk’s social-media company started to test a new $1 annual subscription feature called “Not A Bot” for new users creating an account in New Zealand and the Philippines. It’s part of an effort to reduce spam and manipulation, the company said.

This week also happens to have been one of the worst for X’s reputation since Musk’s takeover of the company formerly known as Twitter, as the raging Israel-Gaza conflict has triggered the spread of alarming amounts of disinformation, lies, and inaccuracies.

Musk’s social network business began testing a new $1 yearly membership option called “Not A Bot” for new users opening accounts in the Philippines and New Zealand this week. According to the corporation, it’s a part of an attempt to lessen spam and manipulation.

The Israel-Gaza war has caused a great deal of misinformation, lies, and inaccuracies to be circulated, making this week one of the worst for X’s reputation since Musk took over the firm once known as Twitter.

For a while now, Musk has toyed with the notion of hiding the entirety of X behind a paywall. Usually, he has justified this by arguing that a fee might effectively eliminate the spam bots that plague the platform with fake content.

That could have some validity. One way a paywall might have prevented false information regarding the Israel-Gaza conflict from spreading is by preventing the emergence of a phoney account purporting to be an Al Jazeera journalist.

However, Musk ventures into perilous ground by charging users for access to X: a platform essential for reporting and exchanging current events through free speech in real time runs the risk of becoming a pay-to-play game.

If you’re not sure why it’s a bad thing, consider the intensity — and the sources — of the information war that has engulfed Musk’s platform since the terrorist strikes on Israel by Hamas began on October 7.

The dissemination of false information, Photoshopped photos, and deliberate distortion of facts about the Israel-Gaza war cannot be entirely attributed to bots. Individuals expressing themselves freely have also been held accountable.

A video purportedly showing Hamas firing missiles into Israel from the Gaza Strip was shared on X lately.

However, according to Reuters, similar footage that identified Syria as the location surfaced in 2020. The news agency also stated that the conflict between Israel and Hamas in October 2023 was not shown in the movie.

Free, unrestricted access to X has been necessary for users such as journalist Shayan Sardarizadeh, who specialises in addressing misinformation, in order to combat falsehood. The same access is needed for very active users who tag postings with a Community Note to correct them.

Unrestricted access has undoubtedly provided an essential way to exercise free speech in opposition to speech intended to sow conflict, incite indignation, and add chaos to an already chaotic situation.

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